The Ommegang pageant takes place each year in Brussels, Belgium, to commemorate the ‘joyous entry’ of Charles V, and is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.
We knew little about the Ommegang festival until we had the opportunity to attend the event with Brussels-Wallonia Tourism, last summer. In fact, all we knew was it takes place in Grand Place each summer and involves people dressing up in colourful costumes.
The first thing we learned is the Ommegang in Brussels is not merely a medieval festival, but a representation of a historical pageant. It recreates the first visit of Emperor Charles V, also known as Charles Quint, to the city of Brussels, 1549. This was his ‘joyous entry’ to the city, to present his son, who would become Philip II of Spain.
The word ‘Ommegang’ comes from the Dutch words omme (around) and gang (walk) and these days refers to a procession. There are various Ommegang processions around Belgium and Northern France, but the Brussels Ommegang is particularly special.
The Brussels’ Ommegang demonstrates how Charles paraded through the city to the Grand Place where he took the place of honour among other royals and dignitaries. While he looked on, a steady stream of guilds, performers, and people hoping to pay tribute to the new ruler, paraded past.
Today’s elaborate, colourful pageant takes place much as it did in 1549 and involves more than 1400 performers. Before the Ommegang began, we were lucky to get a peek behind the scenes at the preparations.
The pageant begins with the seating of the dignitaries. Many of them are actually descended from the royal families they represent. They parade through Grand Place and take their places as ‘guests of honour’ under a canopy facing the town hall.
Once they are all seated, the real festivities begin. Entertainment includes music, dancing, flag throwing and horseback riding.
These days there is also a light-show projected onto the guild houses and things are somewhat more high-tech than they would have been in Charles V’s day.
Sadly, we missed one of the highlights of the evening, the stilt-walkers. By the time they were closing out the show, the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down -one of the possible downsides of outdoor events in Brussels. Luckily, it held off until near the end of the evening show.
In addition to the pageant on Grand Place, there is also a medieval village and various tournaments that take place on the Place de Grand Sablon. The church of Our Lady of Sablon is tied to the first-ever Ommegang, through the story of Beatrice Soetkens and the Crossbowmen’s guild (Read more about the legend in our article on the Grand Serment Royal et de Saint-Georges des Arbalétriers de Bruxelles.)
To get more insight into the time period of the original Ommegang, read about our visits to the former palace of Brussels, Coudenberg and the former city gate, now the Porte de Hal museum, and visit them for yourself. For even more photos, visit my Ommegang photo gallery on ACM Photography.
The spectacular pageant of the Ommegang in Brussels, is a must-see-in-your-lifetime event. This year the festival pageant will take place on July 1st and 3rd. You can learn more and book tickets for the 2014 event on the official Ommegang website.
We’d like to thank Brussels Wallonia Tourism for inviting us to learn more about the Brussels Ommegang and experience it firsthand. As always, all opinions are our own.